tue 21/01/2020

Prom 54, Richter, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer review - independent-minded Hungarians return | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 54, Richter, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer review - independent-minded Hungarians return

Prom 54, Richter, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer review - independent-minded Hungarians return

Incisive Enescu and Bartók, slightly over-interpreted Mahler

Anna Lucia Richter, Iván Fischer and the players of the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the song-finale of Mahler FourBoth images by Chris Christodoulou/BBC

Two heartening facts first. Iván Fischer's much-loved crew remains one of the few world-class orchestras with an individual voice, centred on lean, athletic strings adaptable to Fischer's febrile focus (perfect for Enescu and Bartók, not quite so much for Mahler). And though the Budapest players remain Hungary's greatest musical ambassadors, the anti-Orbán stance of their eloquent chief conductor means that they will never be propaganda tools of the new nationalism; we can welcome them back to the Proms unreservedly.

Fischer is not only something of a hero for saying what's right; he's also a masterly conductor. To see him dance ever so precisely, placing strong accents with absolute clarity, through the second movement of  Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was to find what we were hearing perfectly complemented in visual terms. That he can play so magisterially with the phrases, though, wasn't always in the best interests of Mahler's Fourth Symphony. There is much art behind the seemingly naive journey into the woods and out again, but attention doesn’t always need to be drawn to it (what I've heard of his brother Ádám's Mahler cycle on CD feels more organic). The Schubertian second melody of the opening sleigh-ride was pushed almost over a cliff on its return; the great slow movement's plains of heaven, though powerfully contrasted with episodes of profound sorrow, had a few unnecessary bumps of tempo and texture. Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra at the PromsYet it is understandable that Fischer and his players wanted to fine-tune a very vivid interpretation. Placings for the Mahler were as carefully considered as they had been for the Bartók: the harp, to the fore in the first half (pictured above), centre back between two groups of double-basses, crucial for the final descent into silence, a single horn coming to the front not because it's an obbligato instrument, as in the parallel scherzo of the Fifth Symphony, but simply to duet with solo and collective violins.

There were outstanding sounds from the four flutes, piping their blithe new tune in the middle of the first movement with supernatural emphasis, and the principal oboe, Clément Noël (one of the few non-Hungarian names in the orchestra), lifting the sound in the symphony's only real sloughs of despond. Anna Lucia Richter, trying to make a poised virtue out of coming on during the glimpse of paradise just before her song-finale - why not enter in the break between the second and third movements? - projected the childlike meaning of the text beautifully, though it was a shame that she couldn't manage the longest phrases in one breath; Fischer was already moving it along to make that possible.

No reservations at all, though, about the first half, launched by strings singing as one in the magnificent Prélude à l'unisson which launches Enescu's First Orchestral Suite. This was a daring but effective choice to send out for starters into the Albert Hall vasts, perfectly shaped and spaced by Fischer. It could have segued straight into Bartok’s opening incantation - another single line, this time from the violas and softly joined by others in a mystic spiderweb of sound. Xylophone and glissandoing timpani sounded magical in the venue, too; and somehow the antiphonal dance-finale cut through the space. The evening's encore, just a minute or so of the Laudate Dominum from Mozart's Vespers, with the musicians singing in fine harmony as well as playing before Richter joined them for the final soaring, gave notice of the vintage individuality you can expect in the first half of the second concert tonight. Shame on the usual unseemly rush to the exits - something you won't find in concert halls on the continent - that led so many folk so miss it.

There is much art behind Mahler's seemingly naive journey into the woods and out again, but attention doesn’t always need to be drawn to it


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article


I fortunately stayed and cried at the last moment finished! Pure joy!

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters